Interview Series 1: Finding Heimat

Heimat is a unique term in the German language, describing more than just the feeling of being at home. It describes a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being rooted somewhere.

Heimat (pronounced [ˈhaɪmat]) is a German word with no English equivalent[1] that denotes the relationship of a human being towards a certain spatial social unit. The term forms a contrast to social alienation and usually carries positive connotations. It is often expressed with terms such as home or homeland. (Wikipedia)

Your Heimat does not have to be where you currently live or where you were born, it has individual meaning to everyone. My Heimat is the countryside in Bavaria, where my family lives and where most of my early memories are. Going to Vienna feels like “coming home” too, when I arrive in the city it usually takes me a while to grasp that I am just a visitor now.

Vancouver has grown to become Heimat for me very quickly. Being with my husband makes me feel at home and I truly connect with the mentality and lifestyle in Vancouver – I feel like I belong here. It’s the sum of places, friends, family and memories that give me a sense of Heimat. A beautiful concept: It means you are never lost.

Many of my friends and fellow bloggers have this one thing in common: They live or have lived abroad for multiple years. I am fascinated by how our notion of home and Heimat changes with the experience of being abroad, being a foreigner and searching for a home away from home.

These four people have never met and yet they have a whole lot in common.

Kemara Pol

Blogger and Photographer

Kemara Pol Photographer and BloggerWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I don’t necessarily see home as something that is geographically determined. To me it has to do with a certain emotion of comfort, trust and understanding. I think home is where your people are, that could be your family you were born into, the family that you’ve created yourself or your friends you’ve become close with over the years. Home is being with people you love and trust and where you unapologetically can be your true self.  ‘Heimat’ as in a geographic area that you feel close to or connected with, isn’t really something that I think about and it’s not the way I want to go through life.

Which cities have you lived in?

I’ve lived in Berlin, Vienna, Linz, Shanghai and Bangkok.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

For me it’s all about the people you choose to surround yourself with, your social environment, your support system, people who literally make you feel at home. Why is it that we get homesick when we’re abroad? Why do we feel isolated if we just moved to another city or even another country? Because we feel left out and we miss the people who we’ve left behind who gave us the feeling of comfort and being at home.

What do you miss about living in those places?

I miss the big city life, the challenge of conquering a metropolis, the exciting feeling of being somewhere else, exploring new horizons and adventures. I still remember the day when I moved to Shanghai as part of my exchange semester as if it was yesterday. I found an apartment for myself in just four days. On the first day I sat on the window bench in my room on the 28th floor or something and looked out the window at the amazing skyline and thought to myself ‘This city is mine now, and I’m gonna conquer it!’

Where to next – or are you staying?

I don’t know yet. I’m hoping  to move to a major city that excites me culturally as well as mentality-wise at some point in my life. My absolute priority for right now is to establish my blog and I’ll see where life will take me….




Cheryl Howard

Travel Blogger

Blogger Cheryl HowardWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I now live in Berlin, Germany, which I feel is the best city on earth! While I’ve lived the majority of my life in Toronto, Canada, I feel much more “at home” in Berlin. It’s where I’m most happy and there’s no where else that I’d rather be. It’s odd how a person can move to an entirely new city and country and feel more at home there than in their native land. But I think I’ve found my place. So, I think the key to “Heimat” is simply the feeling of being happy with where you are.

Which cities have you lived in?

I’m Canadian and have lived all over the country! I was born in Woodstock, a small city in South Western Ontario. At age 13, I moved to a tiny village in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia where I spent my high school years. Terrified at the thought of living out the rest of my life in a rural setting, the day after my graduation, I eagerly left Nova Scotia behind to spend the summer before university with my father in Brantford, Ontario. That fall, I began post secondary school in Toronto and three years later, finished my last semester in Calgary, Alberta. After graduation, I returned to Toronto to establish my career as a project manager. I then stayed in Toronto for a very long time, but longing for a new life I eventually moved to Europe, ending up in Berlin for 18 months where I started a new career as a travel blogger. For personal reasons, I moved back home to Toronto for two years. After realising how much I missed Germany, I happily moved back in November 2014.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

When I first arrived in Berlin, I was pretty homesick. I’d never been on a vacation longer than three weeks and had never lived so far away from home before. There were a lot of Skype calls! But then I started going out and meeting people and that changed everything. I met people with whom I had more in common with than the friends I had at home. People who loved travelling, pursuing new adventures abroad and more. I really came to like the German culture and identified with it in a way that I never expected. The new friends made all the difference and made me feel at home in my new surroundings.

What do you miss about living in those places?

When I moved home to Toronto in November 2012, it seemed like the right thing to do. I missed my friends and family, was tired of freelancing and dealing with some of the difficulties of expat life. Sometimes it takes leaving a place before you figure out where your home (and heart) really are and for me, that was Berlin. My two years home were great, but I constantly ached for Berlin and for the longest time, it didn’t seem like it would happen. Thankfully, it did and now that I’m back, I don’t imagine myself ever leaving.

Where to next – or are you staying?

As I said, there’s no other place I’d rather be than in Berlin. I even plan to apply for permanent residency in about two years and may even consider citizenship at a later date.

W. D.

Recent MSc Graduate

ViennaWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I’d say that I’ve had several homes throughout the years. Home is a place – certainly Bavaria, where I grew up and where my family lives, and whose traditions, music, food, fashions I relate to. I’d probably describe Bavaria as “Heimat”, too, because of these traditions, which for some reason I connect with the German word “Heimat”. However, what I call “home”, and not “Heimat” in what I see as a traditional word, has a lot to do with the people I connect with. Therefore, home is also a feeling and not just a place. My friends are my home, special evenings or days of happiness with my friends are and have been my home. When I’ve been happy in relationships I was at home when I was with my respective partner. People who make me feel good about myself are what makes me feel at home.

Which cities have you lived in?

Munich, Vienna, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, and, briefly, London.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

Having my own flat or room, it doesn’t matter where but it has to feel like my own place. Also having a regular pub or someplace where I can easily get to talking with people in the evenings. The advantage of not being straight is often that you’ll find people in any city that has some kind of gay scene, too. It might also just be superficial encounters and chats but it helps to not feel alone when you’re completely new. I also like exploring a new place via public transport and on foot. Once I know my way around a bit, I feel much more at home.

What do you miss about living in those places?

About the places I’ve lived, I miss the specific atmospheres of those cities.
For Hong Kong, I miss the food, the contrasts between sky scrapers and expensive malls on the one hand and the smaller alleys with cheap and local food markets or diner-like places. I miss hearing Cantonese and the excitement I felt at all the differences I saw to European cities. With Sydney and Melbourne, I miss the good friends that I made there. I miss what I perceived as a much more easygoing vibe in general (as opposed to Germany, for instance). I also miss the beach and the good times I had working as a bartender. For Vienna, I miss the pubs and bars I used to go to, the Danube and going swimming there in the summer. I miss the Viennese grumpiness and special sense of humour. I especially miss the great times I had with some of my best friends there. It still feels like I only just left Edinburgh, so I don’t necessarily miss it that much – although I recently heard a bagpipe play at a festival and became nostalgic as I used to hear them play everyday outside my window in Edinburgh. London: I miss the great walks that I took there, through all the big parks, along the Thames and the canals.

Where to next – or are you staying?

Hopefully China, but via Iceland and Vancouver. It could also be Brussels or London, though, depending on job situation…

Barbara Tiedke

Paediatric intensive care nurse and Blogger

Barbara Tiedke BloggerWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

One of my new years resolutions for 2015 is to find a place I can call home. I truly don`t know where that particular place could be…I guess it is true: Home is where your heart is. Whereas I had a feeling of belonging during my last visit in Vancouver. “Heimat” means one thing to me: Back to the roots, back to the family. Especially my Mam`s place in Germany.

Which cities have you lived in?

I have lived and worked in a few cities for months and years. For example: Bochum and Tübingen (Germany), Whangamata (NZ), Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Brisbane (Australia), Vancouver (Canada), London (UK).

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

I adjust to new environments quite easily. I have the tendency to call a flat/room “home” quickly, even though I have no real bond with it and am basically just renting it for a while. It might be the excitement which comes with new places, people and experiences.

What do you miss about living in those places?

I wish that there would be a combination of them! Close to my family, vast and wild like Canada, sophisticated like London, and relaxed and with warm temperatures like the Cook Islands and Australia.

Where to next – or are you staying?

I have a stop over at my Mam`s for two weeks before I will hike along the Camino de Santiago. My mission is to clear my mind and think about what to do with my life, which also means where to stay or settle for more than two years. Eventually I will return to Vancouver. Who knows? There are so many beautiful places out there! So much to explore!



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